from the comments … mine on the AEA’s code of conduct

This afternoon I submitted my comments on the AEA’s proposed code of conduct and interim report. You have until March 15th to do the same here.  I thought I would go ahead and share my comments below. Maybe this will spur other ideas for you to submit to the AEA … or you are welcome to reply with “what Claudia said” if you like.

Please, please take time to submit your comments.


Thank you to everyone who got us to this point of submitting comments on specific proposals. I had expressed pessimism on my blog last summer and am encouraged by the response of the economics community so far. Even so, for the code and other proposals to lead to meaningful change, we will need sustained, broad-based efforts.

Comments on the code:

  • I agree with spirit of the first three paragraphs of the code, setting it squarely within the mission of the American Economic Association. Some have argued that the AEA is not in a position to push back against behavior on a private website or that civil discourse can be sacrificed. It is important for the code to clearly rebut those arguments.
  • I am concerned that the “equal treatment” and “equal opportunity” section will be used to defend the status quo. For example, Antecol, Bedard, and Stearns (2018) found that gender-neutral tenure clock adjustments benefited men over women. It would also be helpful in this section to state clearly that economics is currently far from this goal. In addition, the listing of “protected groups” could be counterproductive. Some may argue for additional groups like gender identity or political party affiliation. An alternate approach would be to simply state the goal: economic arguments should be evaluated respectfully on their scientific merits and not on the personal characteristics or affiliations of the economist.
  • The code ‘nailed the landing’ with its final paragraph. It is essential that we accept both individual and collective responsibility as professional economists. The silent bystanders need to speak up when they see problematic behavior.

Comments on the report:

  • The intention to make sure that AEA journals follow the code is a good one. It might be useful to run experiments at one of the journals or with a portion of the ASSA sessions. Empirical evidence on what works and what doesn’t would likely increase buy-in from economists and could establish best practices for other journals and conferences.
  • It is important that the leadership of the AEA is more representative of its members, including liberal arts colleges, government, and private sector economists, not just a handful of research universities.
  • A survey of the AEA membership is a good first step to assessing the status quo and the room for improvement. Please utilize experts in survey methodology as well as those with experience running surveys of economists and diversity efforts. A well-designed survey could be used both to survey members in general and to establish a baseline in specific environments that run experiments. Cognitive interviews and pre-testing can insure that the questions are working as expected before fielding the survey. Administrative, objective data is important to collect but so are more subjective, qualitative data. Please make sure the survey is run through the AEA and not pushed down to one of the diversity subcommittees. It is important to make sure response rates are high across various sub-populations of economists. One idea to raise participation would be to make it mandatory for registration at the ASSA meetings or for submitting to an AEA journal.
  • An assessment of seminar culture is important and should be done scientifically. The effect of the climate on participants is important, not just the outward interactions. The design of the study needs to be aware of the Hawthorne effect and confirmation bias of the data collectors. Please engage experts in communication outside of economics.
  • The steps to address bias are a good starting point. Please utilize resources like Diversifying Economic Quality and existing research. To encourage and support further research in reducing bias, the AEA could set aside publication space in one of its journals and/or have a standing session at the ASSA on bias.
  • Addressing and replacing EJMR is going to take concerted efforts in education and in providing alternate outlets for sharing information. An anonymous, online message board is not good for the economics profession. Personnel information is sensitive and sharing it without authorization runs afoul of most employers’ human resource policies. Accusations of intellectual dishonesty should be taken seriously not turned into sport. Finally libelous speech, harassment, and stalking on a website and in personal interactions is a very serious concern. Telling those affected to ignore the comments or to have a thicker skin is not a solution. Punishments for continued bad behavior need to be spelled out. Experts in mediation and legal treatment of harassment should help in crafting the new policies.


PS To keep my comments under the 750 word limit, I had to trim back some. For example, I had written in my intro: “Also after many years of turning a blind eye to bad behavior in the economic profession, an apology from the AEA to those who have put up with the crap and to the ‘missing economists’ who have left the profession would be welcome.” On reflection, ‘we are sorry’ is not enough … we have to do better. Recently I have been encouraging other women to enter economics and I simply want better for the next generation.

economists learning to code, together

UPDATE: The AEA has posted its report and draft of the professional code of conduct. Open for comments until March 15.

honesty and integrity in our work, civil and respectful dialogues in any forum, responsibility for own and collective conduct …

Friday night as I heard John Campbell describe plans for a new professional code of conduct for economists, my mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions. Above all, was a weary hallelujah. This is the clearest high-profile recognition I have heard that economics has a problem here. I also took comfort in being wrong: back in September on this blog, I had staked out an expectation of being disappointed by the AEA’s response to Alice Wu’s findings. In my defense, it doesn’t take a DSGE model to tell you how hard it is for economists to set their sights on a new equilibrium.  This outcome was not a given; it took many voices (see, weary above). The AEA received a petition with over 1,000 economist signatures, an #EJMinfo hashtag was set up by two concerned economists, and countless discussions followed. I know many of those voices personally and my PhD advisor was on the code’s committee, so I sat there feeling immensely grateful.

Of course, not every thought I had was positive. At the start of the business meeting, I shot off a grumpy tweet: “true, lots of women here … but none at the head table, not encouraging.” I am sure AEA President Al Roth was trying to lighten the mood by referring to the “largest crowd ever” in the room, but frankly I wasn’t in the mood for jokes.  One surprise (to me) by having spoken up about the culture in economics is how people now come to me with their painful experiences. It SUCKS, hurts, makes me angry, and tests my love of economics. Roth’s joke made me think how we could have filled the Grand Ballroom (it wasn’t really a big crowd) with all the “lost economists” … the men and women who got hurt by our culture and walked away or who never felt invited in. Of course, if they had been assembled, we would have heard an apology, right? I did not hear an apology.

Setting aside, what a mess my internal wiring is … the code of conduct and the next steps outlined by Peter Rousseau at the business meeting will take a lot of work, from everyone. More diversity among the AEA officers (did you know an economist from a liberal arts college has never been elected?), a survey of the professional climate in economics (reminder: data are endogenous), AEA promoting best practices to end harassment and supporting victims (it’s about time), a new Job Wiki run by the AEA (thanks #EJMinfo for showing it can be done non-anonymously), and a moderated online forum for economists (thanks EJMR for showing how asymmetric info is in the profession and how much we need moderators). Inspiring words from a new AEA committee are not enough, ask CSWEP (founded in 1971) how hard it is to move the dial on presence of women in economics (no progress in last 20 years).

I’ll close with some backward induction. Look up again at the new goals for professional conduct … go to that new equilibrium in your mind and then solve backward to today. Think of all the tough conversations, sticking points (even defining terms will be hard), and tears between where we are now and where we want to go. I know. My Twitter is littered with my clumsy (but patient) attempts on this topic, like this two-day convo on seminar culture or this on diversity in macro panels. And I am not going to stop. I also got a head start on the tears (cried Friday night back in my room) … but I LOVE the idea from this code that we are in it together. Each of us taking collective responsibility for economics is a tall order but essential for real progress.

It will be glorious. Let’s get to it.  #ASSA2018  #thankyou

Addendum: I wrote this post from notes I took at the AEA Business Meeting. Here is related news coverage in the WSJ and Bloomberg. Look for the AEA to publish its proposals for member comment soon. And please, when they do, take time to send them your comments. I will.